Author: journeyistblog (Page 2 of 2)

Welcome to The Journeyist travel blog featuring stories from the sea to the slopes and sometimes everything in between.
Authored by Terry Lankstead, editor of GoodLife Magazine in Mississauga, Ontario, many of the articles have already been published but fresh stories could surface here from time to time.
The Journeyist believes that travel is more than just a destination and the featured stories reflect this romantic notion, providing readers with insider details either to make them yearn to adventure there or feel like they have experienced it all first hand.
Sit back, explore this site and prepare for an adventure with The Journeyist.

Ski Vermont: Exploring Killington, Stowe and the Mad River Valley

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Having visited the breathtakingly beautiful Green Mountain State on family vacations and a few Guy-getaways to Killington, I think I have a grasp on all that Vermont has to offer. It turns out this can’t be farther from the truth. As my precious days there unfold, I discover there is so much more to the billboard-free land of covered bridges, winding rivers and picturesque mountain villages. Oh yes, there is also magnificent skiing, all just a short flight away.

Porter Escapes

Waiting in the lounge for my flight to Burlington to be announced, I see strangers striking up conversations and others fiddling with various electronic devices. There is a sense of calm as flights are announced and passengers make their way to the gates. It’s my first time flyingPorter Airlines and the experience is very civilised. I was so relaxed, I half expected an airport employee to come around offering foot massages – not that I needed one, but maybe after a few days on the slopes…

A half-hour into the flight I realise I haven’t reclined my seat as there is ample leg room. Then no sooner am I stretching out comes the signal to prepare for landing and move all seats into their upright positions. I gaze out the window at the twinkling Christmas lights of the city of Burlington below and I cannot believe it is already time to land. The flight from Toronto, although Porter says takes 70 minutes, only takes 50 minutes this trip. There must have been a heck of a tail wind.

Vermont’s Largest City

Combining a sophisticated college hipness with New England village charm, Burlington is Vermont’s largest city with about 40,000 residents. It has ample eating and drinking options as well as anything else you might think you need, including a record shop. Its streets at night are bustling with shoppers and bar-hoppers especially in the Church Street marketplace, an open-air brick-paved street mall with historic buildings, buskers and hundreds of shops, restaurants and cafes. All of this, just a short drive away from several of Vermont’s top ski resorts.

This visit takes me to some of the state’s most well-known ski destinations including the “Beast of the East,” Killington Resort, aptly nicknamed because it boasts the most skiable terrain in Eastern North America with 92 miles of trails if you include Pico, its sister mountain.

Killington is a scenic hour and a half drive south from Burlington airport either down Highway 89 or along the more scenic Route 7, meandering through quaint New England villages like Middlebury, Brandon, Pittford and Shelburne. If you have the time, the Shelburne Museum is worth a visit to experience Vermont vernacular paintings, folk art, textiles, toys and more. There’s even a covered bridge.

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The Beast of the East: Killington, VT

Pulling up to the Killington Grand Hotel and eyeing the breathtaking Snowdon Peak – which at 3592 feet is only the fourth highest of Killington’s six mountain peaks – will give any snow carver, goosebumps. Powder hounds will want to shoulder their skis across the pedestrian bridge to the Snowshed lift while taking in the spectacular snow-capped mountain view. The Killington Peak summit is 4241 feet with an impressive vertical drop of 3050 feet, second highest to Whiteface in Lake Placid, NY (in the East).

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.39.33 PMThe resort itself is monstrous with 1509 skiable acres and new this year, an extra 500 acres of glade skiing. Rob Megnin, journeyman ski instructor and Killington Resort’s director of marketing and sales confidently declares, “I would put it up against any resort including those in the West. We’ve opened up the whole mountain this year. Our team has spent the off-season clearing 500 acres of freshly skiable wooded terrain, and for a different experience a shuttle bus away from the Grand is Pico Mountain.”
Pico is a great place to ski when Killington gets crowded, although their “crowded” does not compare to Ontario’s.

Killington’s terrain is hugely diverse, from extreme steeps and moguls to wide relaxed groomers. The mountain gets an average of 250 inches of natural snow per year. According to marketing manager Michael Joseph, “This year we were skiing on the 25th of October and expect to be skiing into June.“

Of all the peaks, Bear Mountain has the most challenging terrain and coolest vibe, while Snowden and Ramshead are great for families and taking advantage of the learn to ski or ride program – awarded “Best Learn To Program” by Ski Area Management magazine. Ramsheadhas fast and wide intermediate runs perfect for schussing or carving. Timberline terrain park is fun small jumps and jibs for park newbies, and the Squeeze Play intermediate glades where trees are wider apart and the forest echoes with whoops and yelps.

At Killington Peak if you are looking to log a ton of fast medium-length runs, head to the North Ridge Triple Chair and ski Rime with some natural medium-sized moguls or Reason, where you can go as fast or controlled as you want. It’s sheer Blue run bliss!! And for an exhilarating Black to Blue run experience try Needles Eye at Skye Peak.

One of the hottest destinations at Killington this year is the highly anticipated brand new Peak Lodge. Located at the top of the cow manure-powered K1 Gondola, the highest summit lodge in Vermont boasts panoramic views and an upscale menu. The giant picture-windows frame majestic views of the Green Mountains. On a clear day you can see Mt. Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont’s highest peak.

Killington is regarded as Vermont’s busiest resort due to its proximity to major cities such as Boston and New York. For this reason, the bars, clubs and restaurants on the five-mile long access road are abundant and lively. Enjoy their mouthwatering New York Strip Peppercorn steak (steaks are their specialty) and the jaw-dropping salad bar selection at The Wobbly Barn, then people-watch or dance the night away in the club-like atmosphere upstairs. The Wobbly is turning 50 this year. Take in quality Top 40/Dance bands on three floors at the Pickle Barrel (not to be confused with the restaurant chain here) or head over to JAX for a more intimate live music setting, arcade games or a laundry emergency. Outback Pizza is also excellent for live music, and pizza of course.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.40.51 PMBeer, Bourbon and Bridges

Watching the ‘Beast in the East’ fade away through the rear window of an AWD vehicle (strongly advised in Vermont), Sarah Wojcik, Ski Vermont’s director of public affairs explains that there is much more to the state than moguls and maple syrup. We drive beside winding rivers, past rustic barns and covered bridges as Sarah explains about the state’s 30 micro-breweries, local bourbons and cheese-making prowess. On this trip I try a few of the award-winning hoppier IPAs byLong Trail, Fiddlehead and Otter Creek and none of them disappoint. There are dozens, including Heady Topper by The Alchemist in Waterbury, recently chosen best beer in the world by Beer Advocate Magazine. It’s apparently a hot commodity in Vermont – hard to find because The Alchemist can’t keep up with the demand for this double IPA.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.40.19 PMThe river flows north in the Mad River Valley

About an hour north of Killington and just 45 minutes from Burlington, the picture-perfect town of Warren is set on the banks of the Mad River, so called because it flows north, according to Eric Friedman, marketing director at Mad River Glen ski area. With a church on the hill overlooking a covered bridge and the valley, Warren’s quintessentially Vermont beauty inspires the region’s abundant community of artists.

Visit the Warren Store for a quick bite. Set in a century-old farmhouse with creaking plank floors and a central hotstove, the store has delicious and healthy farm to table sandwiches prepared on their freshly baked breads.
Like Warren, equidistant from Sugarbush (about 10 minutes) is the town of Waitsfield. Here you will find a movie house, restaurants and no fewer than six bakeries. Stop by Lareau Farm, the original home of Vermont’s famous American Flatbread pizza. It is all natural and baked in a wood-fired earthen oven. They are only open Thursday to Sunday from 5pm-9:30pm, and they don’t take reservations.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.41.13 PMScreen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.39.55 PMSugarbush

Once nicknamed Mascara Mountain, because it was a glamorous ski destination for New York models and socialites including Andy Warhol,Sugarbush Resort opened in 1958. Glen Ellen, beside it, opened 50 years ago in 1964 and amalgamated with Sugarbush in 1979. In 2001 it was renamed Mount Ellen at Sugarbush, which is comprised of three main peaks and three smaller peaks. Mount Ellen has their highest vertical drop, the second largest in Vermont at 2,600 feet, followed byLincoln Peak at 2,400’ and Castlerock at 2,267 feet. Owned bySummit Ventures since 2001, whose majority owner is former Merril Lynch executive Win Smith, Sugarbush boasts 53 miles (85km) of trails and 18 lifts.  Let’s face it – you will not be bored skiing here.

At Sugarbush, you effectively have two ski experiences. At Lincoln Peak, overlooking a natural bowl of skiing deliciousness, the terrain offers something for everyone. To start, try Jester from top to bottom. It’s a winding scenic Intermediate/Blue run that provides some perspective on the area as well as a lot of short turning opportunity. The trails are delightful with numerous lookouts and they all end up at the same chairlift, so experienced and inexperienced riders can hook up each time at the bottom. For experts only, Sugarbush marketing director, Candice White recommends the all-natural conditions atCastlerock Peak. Here you may run into chief recreational officer John Egan plummeting from a rock face and ripping up some pow. John has starred in dozens of Warren Miller ski films.

If things get busy on the Lincoln side or you are looking for a change of atmosphere, hop on the two-mile long Slide Brook Express Quadfrom North Lynx Peak and head over to Mount Ellen. Vermont’s highest chairlift gives you access to 39 more trails spanning everything from steeps to wide-open groomers and beginner runs. Lines are shortest here and this is where many Mad River Valley locals enjoy skiing.

The original Sugarbush side is based at Lincoln Peak Village with its traditional Vermont architecture blending in with mountains. Here you will find two lodges and luxurious slopeside accommodations at Clay Brook Hotel & Residences with a spectacular scenic outdoor heated pool and hot tub, as well as Timbers restaurant with simple but delicious menu options. I recommended their classic egg sandwich with Vermont cheddar before hitting the slopes in the morning. And if Bourbon is your thing, try the extremely smooth Vermont Spirits’ #14at Timbers after an out of this world moonlit Cat ski experience.

Sugarbush has a warm, welcoming family vibe and its proximity to two storybook villages make it an ideal getaway for families or for romance.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.40.30 PMMad River Glen, Ski It If You Can

If you are looking for something arguably more off piste, Mad River Glen ski area is just the ticket. Ripping it old style with all natural snow, their motto is “Mad River Glen, Ski It If You Can.” You may have read this on one of their famous bumper stickers. They have been seen the world over. In the traditional cabin-style lodge there is a Mad wall featuring photos of Mad River Glen enthusiasts posing with the sticker. It was recently pictured in Afghanistan and on the International Space Station!

After 20 years skiing Mad River Glen, no one is more passionate or enthusiastic about the experience than their marketing director, Eric Friedman. Eric beams as he explains,“The narrow winding natural terrain combined with the only single chair lift south of Alaska and most of its original outbuildings are reasons why Mad River is a heritage designated ski area. But mostly the recognition has come from the way the runs have been cut. All the trails meander and end at the same place. At Mad River the snow falls from the heavens and not the hoses. The mossy and grassy slopes are what make this possible. There is little to no grooming.”

Boarders take note. Mad River is one of only three mountains in Vermont designated exclusively for skiers. Eric cuts effortlessly through the powder and natural moguls on several runs that chew me up and spit me out. He also points out a chalet with its own chairlift. Whose is it? The Rockefellers. A run is named after them.

Great vibe. Great runs. Great views. If you are up for a challenge, you must ski Mad River…if you can.

Waterbury – Vermont’s Epicentre

Continuing up VT 100, Vermont’s longest highway, which accesses almost every major ski resort in the state, we arrive in Waterbury in 25 minutes. This thriving community is somewhat of an epicentre being 25 minutes or less from Sugarbush, Mad River, Stowe and Burlington. I say thriving, because it is home to several major Vermont brands including: Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Cheese, Lake Champlain Chocolatesand Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

Arguably, Vermont’s most well-known brand, Green Mountain Coffee is the world’s largest producer of fair trade coffee over the past three years. GMCR produces 64 million pounds of fair trade coffee annually and their purchase of Keurig in 2006 has them partnered withStarbucks, VanHoutte, Dunkin Donuts, Timothy’s and Tim Hortons to name just a few. Their headquarters is a beautifully restored 1875 active Amtrak train station. Take a tour to learn all you ever want to know about the life of a coffee bean, Green Mountain Coffee’s 34-year history,  its commitment to the community and the communities that grow their coffee.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.41.03 PMThe Hills are Alive in Stowe

Just 10 minutes from Waterbury is the bustling ski village of Stowe. An area so beautiful it lured the Von Trapp family to settle there. They saw it  as the closest thing to living in Austria. You can almost hear Maria yodelling as you drive past the alpine architecture of local Inns and shops.

If you say you are headed to Stowe, most people don’t ask “where’s that?” The name is synonymous with ski vacation. In 2008 the luxurious sprawling Stowe Mountain Lodge by Destination Hotels was established with a Vermont-Alpine look and feel at the base of Stowe Mountain Resort. The stunning resort pays respect to the Vermont traditions of utilizing local artisan foods and products and embracing the tranquility of nature. There is also a performing arts centre and games centre for the kids. Future plans include more commercial business, condos and a massive skating rink.

The lodge is dog-friendly and of course people friendly. Upon our arrival at Stowe Mountain Lodge, PR and social media manager, Leslie Kilgore whisks out our press group to the scenic patio to partake in a lantern lighting ceremony. We get to help light 26 lanterns (representing all the nationalities of the winter season staff) and watch them take flight over Mt. Mansfield. This is a spectacular introduction to the thoughtful care and approach at Stowe. They even had the Canadian flag flying out front!

Over breakfast in the farm to table-inspired Solstice Restaurant, Jeff Wise, marketing director for Stowe Mountain Resort beams enthusiastically with his love for the area. He explains (as I enjoy the delicious Lobster Benny) that as a boarder he feels Stowe is the East’s “best mountain for snowboarders because of the grade.”  After skiing numerous runs, I agree there are little to no flats.

Over the course of our week in Vermont, the conditions were fantastic at all resorts, but the slightly lighter snow at Stowe was wondrous perfection. The magnificent horseshoe-shaped panorama of Mount Mansfield (Vermont’s highest) and Spruce Peak allow for a full sun ski day. Catch the morning light on the “front four” and work your way right for mid-day sun at the gondola, then bask in sunshine at Spruce Peak to finish off the day. Make sure you wear sunblock.

There is enough varied terrain to keep everyone happy. From epic expert runs like the renowned “front four” Goat, National, Liftline andStarr, to groomed cruisers like the exhilarating Perry Merrill, super-wide Gondolier and Sunrise. Try Ridgeview if you love to make short turns. Take the Gulch run for natural medium moguls and if glades are your thing, give Nosedive a try.

People were skiing and cutting trails at Stowe in the early 1900s but the first lift was installed in 1946. The area has entertained the world ever since.

The main town is about six miles from the mountain resort and there are more than 70 shops and numerous restaurants to explore. A visit to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill is a must to sample cider donuts and fresh cider right out of the vat. This quintessential Vermont store also has every Vermont product imaginable from Maple syrup to artisanal salsa and woven slippers.

Accommodations at Stowe Mountain Lodge are lavish and some visitors stay there because they claim the sheets are incredibly soft. They are. And you can buy them at the Lodge store. A picturesque outdoor heated pool and hot tubs await you after a full ski day. A relaxing foot and calf massage at the Health and Wellness spa is also highly recommended.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.41.23 PMAs we head out of Stowe for the airport, Ski Vermont’s Sarah Wojcik springs one last surprise on the group. She takes us to the BluebirdTavern in Burlington where the manager has set aside a few cans ofThe Alchemist’s Vermont famous Heady Topper. After some oysters and a day of skiing at Stowe, it was certainly heady and bursting with apricot flavour. Is it the best beer in the world? You will have to go and find out. TJ

 

Les Sables D’Olonne: France’s west coast seaside retreat

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.23.58 PMWe boarded the TGV at Gare Montparnasse almost ready for the second leg of our summer family vacation. 

I say almost because there is always something else you hoped to do, or someplace else you really wanted to visit in Paris, but that only means you will have to return again someday. I find it is important when travelling, to cherish the experiences you have, rather than lament about what you didn’t see or accomplish. This is particularly poignant when it comes to Paris, the city of light, where living in the moment, lapping up the atmosphere, the café culture, its breathtaking architecture, and heightened sense of style, is of parallel importance if not more, to visiting the art galleries, Notre Dame, that famous tower, cruising on the Seine  and shopping on the Champs-Elysées. And let’s not diminish the importance of sampling all the yummy baguettes, runny cheeses, croissants, crepes, chocolates and inexpensive wines. Ca c’est Paris!

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.30.16 PMBut at this point of our journey—the waiting to catch the train point—I was heaving with excitement, not because we were about to bid au revoir to a world class city that had become wall to wall people on a sweltering July weekend, but because we were about to board arguably the fastest train on the planet, clocked at speeds of 320kph.

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.01 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.14 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.26 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.37 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.46 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.58 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.32.13 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.32.21 PMThe 404 kilometre journey from Paris southwest to Les Sables d’Olonne ordinarily takes about six hours via the French National Railway (SNCF), but the high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) service vaults you there in just three hours twelve minutes! Of course it is pricier but it was worth it for what was inevitably an experience our family will never forget. This is the sort of travel that Ontario and Canada should strive towards.

Once you’ve cleared suburban Paris and the speedometer of this electric rocket quietly sneaks (the train itself is almost silent unlike the clickety clack of regular rail travel) up to a staggering 320kph, do you truly appreciate its sheer speed as the beautiful French landscape consumes the TGV’s picture windows with a blur of yellows, blues, greens and wind turbine farms.

I have never seen so many wind turbines on one journey. We left Paris in the sunny heat of midday and arrived at Les Sables d’Olonne in the Pays de la Loire cloaked in drizzle and grey. But one of the locals assured us it will soon pass as it always does later in the day. She was right. By the time we were settled and unpacked at our quaint welcoming French hotel Les Hirondelles, the clouds had dispersed and drenched the courtyard in sun and um… ladybugs (le coccinelles)!! The tables and sun chairs were alive with orange and black spots. We chose to ignore them, shared a cocktail with the extremely friendly owners Regis and Olivia before our two minute dash across the street and the sprawling beach “sands of Olonne” (Les Sables d’Olonne) to dip our feet into the cool waters of the Bay of Biscay.

Ah oui, this is why we came here. The lure of the sea, the fresh local fruits de mer and a chance to enjoy a true French seaside holiday destination away from bustling tourist resorts like La Rochelle to the south (certainly worth a visit but a different kind of experience altogether). We visited in early July, thankfully just before the French school holidays began, so sharing our beach holiday with a few ladybugs was a small price to pay for not having to fight for beach towel real estate each morning.

To think that just a few hours ago we were lugging our baggage around the streets of Paris and now we were snacking on Chichis from Casa Chichi (France’s answer to Beaver Tails or Mexico’s Churros – long corrugated fingers of sugared fried dough presented like a bouquet of flowers) watching the sunset over the Bay of Biscay. Les Sables d’Olonne delivered everything we hoped for and we had yet to explore the centuries old village and port.

The port in the 17th century was the largest cod-fishing port in France. Today the French tourist destination is rather well known amongst the sailing set as it serves as both the start and finish for the famous Vendée Globe, a round-the-world single-handed yacht race. Founded by Philippe Jeantot in 1989 the race happens every four years from November to February and Mississauga’s own Derek Hatfield participated in the 2008-2009 event. Regretfully he had to abandon the race on the 50th day due to “broken spreaders.” I’m not sure what that means but it sure sounds important. You can read online about the Port Credit Yacht Club racer in the Summer 2008 issue of GoodLife.

Les Sables d’Olonne’s rich sailing history is no more evident than the moment you hit its sugary sand beach. When you face the sea look to your right and colourful catamaran sailboat rentals are mingled in with a multitude of beach amusements for children: Trampolines, bouncy castles, slides, cordoned off soccer pitches and bungee bouncers. Look out to sea and there is always a parade of colourful sailboats and windsurfers headed out to take advantage of the ever-present sea breeze.

The winds are so prevalent at this beach resort, that rows upon rows of windbreaks front the ocean like market stalls. The only market here however would be of the exposed human skin variety. I scratched my head when I first happened upon this unique beach architecture but after performing a Mary Poppins routine with the beach umbrella, I gained an appreciation for the windbreak huts. They also provide privacy from those who should not be wearing Speedos. Our group retreated to them a few times but worshipped the sea view too much to linger there for more than an hour.

And oh what a view it is! The beach is set within a bay thanks to the lighthouse breakwall to the north that helps form the inner harbour, home to over a thousand vessels, and the beach curves around to the south as well, where rock-poolers like to gather when the tide goes out. The surf is perfect for families most of the time with smaller gentle waves that only become surfer friendly when the wind really picks up. It is an ideal setting for the kitesurfers who are drawn there, but during our stay in early July only the windsurfers and sailers were out in full force.

If you’re the type to become bored with lazing on the beach, flying kites, building sandcastles, and reading, you might want to join a game of beach soccer or to stroll into the picturesque shopping village where the sound of the waves is replaced by unobtrusive music from a local radio station. A soundtrack of wartime songs emanates from strategically placed speakers above the old village of Les Sables d’Olonne. In some ways the city is almost like Quebec City on a much smaller scale. It has its newer developed business side and its quaint old village that oozes character and charm.

Visitors will spend most of their non-beach time here visiting pâtisserie, chocolatiers, eclectic shops of every description, funky clothing and shoe shops, and a massive central market., ‘Les Halles Centrales’ (designed by the Les Sables Architect, Charles Smolski in 1890).

Here, you can gather provisions of brie, camembert and other runny cheeses, artisanal breads, pastries, fresh catches, cockles, winkles, local oysters and anything else you would expect to find in a French market.

The village streets harken back to yesteryear in every way, from cobbles to shuttered stone buildings and white washed houses with scalloped clay tile roofs. There is also a gothic church Notre Dame de Bon Port built by Richelieu (Bishop of Lucon) in the 17th Century, a Benedictine Abbey and a 15th century chateau nearby.

After a day exploring the shops and beachfront, we would pop back to Les Hirondelles to freshen up. Whilst waiting for the family to gather for an evening out, co-owner Regis is more than happy to pour you a pint and test out your French language knowledge or lack thereof. He takes a little too much joy in my struggle to find the right words to convey our love for the area.

When asked where to go for good seafood, he pointed in every direction, so we chose to head for Le Remblai, which is lined with hotels, restaurants, cafes and shops all of which have impressive views of the sea. Enjoying a café crème and watch the day go by. Pretty much everything is within walking distance and no sooner had we set out, than we happened upon a number of holiday homes covered in shell and broken tile mosaics just tucked away behind the Remblai. They are stunning and unexpected. Created by artist Mme. Arnaud Aubin the art depicts mostly nautical themes, although some border on the macabre and they often tell a story.

We headed back to the Remblai and over towards the casino, arcade and antique working carousel which kept the children rather interested.

Once we arrived in the harbour area we found it difficult to choose between so many restaurants. Most offer several reasonably priced and highly recommended prix fixe menus as well as a la carte choices.

Here is where you will really put your high school French to the test for as I mentioned Les Sables d’Olonne is a holiday destination for people who live in France. It helps to have some basic French knowledge and the locals are very patient and welcoming. Some of them also enjoy trying out their English skills.

After stuffing ourselves with les langoustines (Norwegian lobsters), les moules (mussels) and les huitres (oysters) we walked along the pier, took a ride on the seafront carousel and made our way back along the Remblai passing many happening bars to collapse and prepare for another day of lazing on the beach. This is the Good Life.

 

 

TRAVELINKSwww.vendeeglobe.org/enwww.tripadvisor.ca/Tourism-g196666-Les_Sables_d_Olonne_Vendee_
Pays_de_la_Loire-Vacations.html

www.hotelhirondelles.com

 

Nantucket: The Old Grey Lady of the Sea

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She can be shrouded in fog for days and she’s populated by grey-weathered shingled houses. Her wide-open vistas offer an uninterrupted view of the Atlantic. Combine innate beauty with centuries-old charm and it is befitting that Nantucket is nicknamed The Old Grey Lady.

When the mystical fog lifts – and this can happen as surprisingly quick as its arrival – a magical land of vibrant colour is unveiled. From incomparable ocean views inward to endless sandy beaches, open heath-like moors with abundant wild Rugosa roses, Scottish heather, pines and grasses, to serene ponds, salt marshes, creeks and cranberry bogs, Nantucket’s diverse natural landscape has everything to offer. The flora and fauna reflects the island’s rich history of settlers who were originally lured there to hunt the great whales that flourished primarily off its southern shores.

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.15.31 PMThe Way To Go
Getting there is not the easiest of tasks and islanders wouldn’t have it any other way. They know it is well worth the added effort created by being isolated from the mainland. It is about an eleven-hour (960km) drive east from Mississauga– in our case it was 15 hours in torrential rain– via the New York Thruway, the Mass Turnpike and down the 495 to Hyannisport, MA.

From here you will scramble to park your car and catch a one or two-hour ferry depending on whether you choose the quicker but more expensive fast ferry or one of the slower boats. You can take your vehicle on to the island, but this involves booking well in advance. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transport; bring your own or rent once you get to the island. Jeeps are available for hire and there are also taxis and buses to get you to your beachhouse with all your luggage.

If you are looking to maximize your time there, flying might be the best way to go. A flight to Boston and a connection to Nantucket could get you to ‘ACK’ the airport code for Nantucket Memorial Airport in as little as four hours, if you time it right. You may recall that this famous airport was the setting for the hit 90s hit TV series, Wings, although, it was renamed Tom Nevers Field for the Nantucket sitcom. However you get to the island, once you set foot on its sandy soil, breathe in the salty air, and prepare to fall in love with the old grey lady.

Whaling and Cranberries
Settled in 1659, the island 25 miles (approx.40 km) southeast of Cape Cod Massachusetts, was a whaling centre until the late 1850s. Cranberries and tourism are now the island’s mainstays. In fact, the Milestone Road Cranberry Bog is one of the largest in the world.

Some of these cranberries are added to the famous juices of Nantucket Nectars, a growing juice business launched by the Two Toms– Nantucketers, Tom Scott and Tom First who attended Brown College together. Their juice products are hugely popular in the New England area and they are available here through Cadbury Schweppes in Mississauga.

Cisco Brewers and Nantucket Vineyards
When it comes to libations, Nantucket has it covered, with Cisco Brewers, Triple Eight Distillery and Nantucket Vineyard all at the same location on Bartlett Farm Road near Cisco Beach. I highly recommend the aptly named Whale Tale Pale Ale. And if you visit the brewery, I do recommend a visit to nearby Bartlett Farm to pick up one of their famous fruit pies and take in their wildflower farm.

Cisco is the island’s hottest surfing destination. When I say hot, I mean you can sit there on the beach and watch more the 20 surfers of all ages and skill at any one time. Surf schools and camps are available, and Nantucket Town has a few surf shops to get you started. Cisco is also a popular destination to try out the latest craze, Skim Bungee. Check it out on youtube.

A Beach Lover’s Paradise
Cisco is just one of several different kinds of beaches available to island visitors. Boogie-board, big surf destinations on the south and west sides include the picturesque Surfside Beach, Nobadeer, Miacomet, Madaket and Cisco. These all offer foot-therapy cushioned sand, protected by a picturesque backdrop of grassy moorland. Surfside is perfect for morning walks, where you will find large clamshells amongst other attractive seashells and even the occasional sand dollar washed ashore. You are almost guaranteed to see a few seals frolicking just past the surf break, as well as the occasional ‘protected’ colony of Turns that enjoy dancing around the wash, looking for small sand crabs.

Family swimming in calmer waters is available at the town’s Children’s Beach as well as on the north shores of the island, at beaches like Dionis and the hugely popular Jetties Beach that also features a beachside café, shop and boardwalk. At Jetties you can watch the ferries arriving, yachts racing and fishing boats leaving to collect their haul of lobster or crab. There are also gorgeous tennis courts available to rent by the hour. Before you play, be prepared to sweep off the seashells dropped by hungry seagulls.

Catch of the Day
If fishing is your thing, look no further than Nantucket’s Straight Wharf, where you can charter a boat to catch bass, stripers bluefish and the highly-sought-after blue fin tuna. If that is too ambitious for you, just take your rod down to the beach and fish for the mighty bluefish. At the end of the day I recommend fishing on the west side of the island at Madaket, where you can enjoy spectacular sunsets. Madaket is also a decent bike ride (8km) destination from town. The loop will also take you past the picturesque Long Pond.

Tales and Great Whites
Nantucket has proven to be an inspiration to artisans and writers – including Elin Hiderbrand, Nathaniel Philbrick, Peter Benchley and Herman Melville. The 1851 classic, Moby Dick is based on the tragedy of the Nantucket whaleship Essex, which was attacked by a sperm whale while at sea, and sank. This storied whaling past is highlighted at the Nantucket Historical Society’s recently renovated whaling museum.

In addition to the museum, the old grey lady supports three lighthouses including Brant Point, America’s oldest lighthouse station, as well as four golf courses, an 18th century windmill, the Maria Mitchell Observatory, 50 miles of beaches and a town centre that oozes history.

According to local author/photographer Robert Gambee “No other town in America today has as many homes (over eight hundred) built in the period 1740 to 1840, almost all of which are located in their original settings.”

Also of note, Nantucket has no traffic lights, neon signs, or fast food franchises. The 10,000 year-round residents prefer it that way. At the height of the season this population surges to 50,000 during peak season.

Shopping
From its marina of luxury yachts, sailboats and fishing charters to its cobblestone streets and world-class restaurants, the town centre has it all. Enjoy unique souvenir shops and knick-knacks for the home and don’t forget to check out the famous Nantucket Reds clothing available at Murray’s Toggery Shop and the Nobby Clothes Shop. You can easily spend an entire weekend exploring the historic town. Its unique character and charm are reflected in its classy hand-carved shop signs. Traditions have been maintained in every picture-perfect streetscape.

From the moment you venture off Nantucket Centre’s Main Street on foot, blades or bicycle– Nantucket has an extensive picturesque path system –the sweet perfume of the well-manicured privet hedges overwhelm you. The island’s grey-weathered complexion is partly due to its strict building codes that see any new build adhere to Nantucket’s traditional cedar shingled and dormered appearance. These shingles grey rapidly courtesy of the salty sea air.

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.15.13 PMSiasconset Village and Sankaty Head

If you are staying at one of the many Inns or B&Bs in town, do not forget to venture out to the quaint village of Siasconset (pronounced ‘Sconset for short). ‘Sconset is a hot destination for tourists and garden lovers alike and it was the first spot in America to welcome the dawning of the millenium. From June to early July, witness the intense display of climbing roses that grace most of the charming centuries-old cottages.

Carry on from ‘Sconset to Sankaty Head Lighthouse, which was cleverly moved 400 feet away from the bluff in 2006, to avoid the ravages of soil erosion. Some say, from this vantage point if you look out past the sheer drop, you can see Portugal (perhaps with the Hubble telescope).

In July, in addition to the blossming privet, hydrangeas reign supreme. Their unique purples front numerous cottages and beachouses on the island. In August, the Rose of Sharon and Black-eyed Susan come to the forefront. The Town gardens never fail to impress passers-by when strolling along the red brick walkways. They greet you when you get off the ferry and they are one of the last things you see before boarding for the melancholic return back to the mainland.

At the end of your visit, after the ferry pulls away from the dock, find yourself a penny, as it is a Nantucket tradition to launch one into the sea as the boat rounds Brant Point Light. This will assure that one day you will return into the welcoming arms of ‘the old grey lady.’

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